A “Grand Journey” by Trio Casals


MARINESCU: The Journey, for Piano Trio. BROWN: Trio No. 1, “Koreana.” Trio No. 2, “Pastoral.” SIMON: Caucuses Sonata / Trio Casals: Alexandr Kislitsyn, vln; Ovidiu Marinescu, cel; Anna Kislitsyna, pno / Navona NV6367

Trio Casals presents here a “grand journey” of music inspired by non-American cultures. Cellist Ovidiu Marinescu opens the program with his own piece based on Rumanian music, followed by two works written by Richard E. Brown. “Koreana” is, obviously, based on Korean music while “Pastoral” draws on Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony. The program ends with Mark G. Simon’s Caucuses Sonata which he feels is “a journey through the Black Sea into Central Asia.”

And the music is utterly fascinating, particularly Marinescu’s piece with its strange modal harmonies and its eerie melodic lines. I praised Trio Casals’ prior Navona album (NV6341), and this one is just as good if not better. The brisk second half of this movement, using unusual rhythms, stays mostly on one chord but evolves in a fascinating manner. Although clearly through-composed, some of this music almost sounds as if it were improvised into being. The slow second movement, “Chronos,” sounds like a slow caravan moving through a dream, with slow “raindrop” sounds created by piano and violin, while the third, “Mercury,” opens with the pianist playing the inside strings of his instrument before the trio embarks on a very irregular meter, with audacious violin glissandi and other effects that again suggest a journey on either camel or horseback.

“Koreana” opens with a plaintive cello solo into which the violin enters playing a counter-melody, then the piano playing slow rhythmic and melodic patterns in the bass. The harmonies are unusual but not quite as much as in Marinescu’s piece, and the rhythms, though syncopated, are fairly regular. During the cello solo, that instrument plays in four while the violinist plays above him in 3. The second movement is in a jaunty 6/8, but again with those open-spaced Oriental harmonies. (Oddly, some of the melody used here reminded me of that old children’s song, “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, through your stomach and out your snout”!) The third movement is a fugue based on Nil Li Riya, a light-hearted dancing tune.

“Pastoral” may indeed be based on a Vaughan Williams symphony, but the harmonies are quite modern, even dissonant at times, a style that Vaughan Williams did not really use until after World War II. In fact, if anything this movement also sounds Oriental in feeling. The second movement sounds more like Vaughan Williams, although here Brown uses two different keys for his bouncing, 6/8 melodic line playing against one another. A very clever piece! The slow third movement, although built on motifs from Vaughan Williams’ symphony, does not attempt any imitation of his style but rather wends its way along ominously, ending abruptly.

Mark Simon’s Caucuses Sonata somehow manages to blend in the feel of music from that region with European structure, thus the allusions to Eastern European culture are blended with Western music. This is not a bad thing, however, and Simon has great fun putting the two together in an interesting and meaningful piece. One hears a repeated rhythmic lick that is more of a mood-setter than a development, though the development does eventually come into play, almost sounding like retro-Romantic music for several bars. Indeed, the bulk of this music is based on rhythms and not all that much on harmonic development, but it is still an interesting piece if not as strongly conceived or executed as the previous works. (It almost sounds like a more rhythmically complex version of what pianist Vince Guaraldi played in the old Peanuts cartoon shows.)

An excellent musical journey, then, and one that I recommend that everyone take, though personally I would have placed the Simon sonata in between the two Brown trios on the record.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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